Wins and whines of the year that was

The num­bers show 2017 was a bumper year for new truck sales, and while there were cer­tainly more win­ners than losers, the gap be­tween the high fly­ers and the hope­fuls ap­pears to have grown wider than ever. In this can­did as­sess­ment, we take a sharp look a

Australian Transport News - - Contents - WORDS STEVE BROOKS

The num­bers show 2017 was a bumper year for new truck sales, and while there were cer­tainly more win­ners than losers, the gap be­tween the high fly­ers and the hope­fuls ap­pears to have grown wider than ever

It wasn’t quite as big as the all-time record of 2007, but it wasn’t far off ei­ther, with 36,825 new trucks and heavy vans hit­ting the Aus­tralian mar­ket in 2017. Strong­est of all was the heavy-duty sec­tor with a touch over 12,000 de­liv­er­ies, fol­lowed by light­duty with 11,628 units, and a com­par­a­tively lack­lus­tre medium-duty cat­e­gory notch­ing 7312. But when the num­bers are dis­sected, who was able to make the most of a big year for busi­ness and who wasn’t?

Start­ing at the top, no one will be knocked off their chair by the fact that Isuzu was once again the over­all mar­ket leader, de­liv­er­ing 8898 trucks across all three cat­e­gories and, in the process, notch­ing 29 con­sec­u­tive years at the head of the Aus­tralian mar­ket. Truly an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment.

Bar­ring a cat­a­clysmic col­lapse of the world as we know it, 2018 will not only see Isuzu hit the 30-year mile­stone but, if Isuzu Aus­tralia’s wily op­er­a­tions boss Phil Tay­lor gets his way, the brand will de­liver even more trucks than it did last year. Light and medium-duty sec­tors are, of course, the do­main of the Ja­panese and, while Isuzu stayed far ahead of main ri­vals Hino and Fuso, it was in the heavy-duty league where the brand’s six- and eight-wheeler rigids were again ex­traor­di­nar­ily suc­cess­ful.

In 2017, Isuzu strength­ened its hold on the third rung of the heavy- duty lad­der, de­liv­er­ing al­most 1400 units for a stake of 11.6 per cent. Not bad for an out­fit whose Giga ‘flag­ship’ con­tin­ues to lack an ef­fec­tive pow­er­train and is prob­a­bly the least pop­u­lar model in the en­tire sta­ble.

Still, imag­ine what Isuzu might achieve with a Giga sport­ing an ef­fi­cient en­gine and au­to­mated trans­mis­sion such as, say, a Cum­mins X12 and an Ea­ton Ul­trashift-Plus. Sure, it’s way out­side the square of cor­po­rate prob­a­bil­ity but, then again, any­thing’s pos­si­ble with the right lev­els of de­sire and de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Any­way, enough of this day­dream­ing. Ob­vi­ously enough, the only heavy- duty brands ahead of Isuzu – ad­mit­tedly, well

“DAF’s move to a lo­cal assem­bly op­er­a­tion is a ma­jor coup that ar­guably holds the great­est op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth within the Pac­car fold”

ahead – were the true big boys of the class, Ken­worth and Volvo.

CHART TOP­PER

For its part, Ken­worth main­tained its longestab­lished perch at the top of the tree, de­liv­er­ing 2355 units for a 19.6 per cent stake of the heavy-duty mar­ket. In many ways, though, 2017 may ac­tu­ally go down as some­thing of a wa­ter­shed year for Ken­worth or, rather, its Pac­car par­ent com­pany.

Last year was, af­ter all, the first year for Ken­worth’s in­spir­ing new T610 model and, with ac­cep­tance ac­cel­er­at­ing, plus sev­eral new de­vel­op­ments planned for 2018 and the un­re­lent­ing pop­u­lar­ity of an ex­ist­ing range led by the re­silient K200 cab- over, it’d take a supreme pes­simist to pre­dict any­thing other than an­other pow­er­ful per­for­mance in the year ahead.

As for those new de­vel­op­ments, a T410 model is al­most cer­tain to fol­low in the foot­steps of the T610, while on the other side of the Pac­car port­fo­lio, we’ve al­ready re­vealed that the se­cond half of 2018 will see the start of DAF assem­bly at Pac­car’s Bayswa­ter (Vic) fa­cil­ity.

While the ar­rival of a T410, punched by Pac­car’s MX en­gine, will be a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in main­tain­ing Ken­worth’s brand supremacy, DAF’s move to a lo­cal assem­bly op­er­a­tion is a ma­jor coup that ar­guably holds the great­est op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth within the Pac­car fold.

With early as­pi­ra­tions for a 4 per cent stake of the heavy- duty sec­tor in 2017, DAF de­liv­ered 388 units in the heavy- duty class (plus 32 medium- duty mod­els) for a mod­est 3.2 per cent slice of the cat­e­gory.

Dis­ap­point­ing per­haps, but with Bayswa­ter’s ex­ten­sive en­gi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing re­sources able to tai­lor spec­i­fi­ca­tions more suited to Aus­tralian con­di­tions, there’s no ques­tion DAF will en­ter an en­tirely new era later this year, and if all goes to Pac­car’s plan, the Dutch truck might fi­nally achieve at least some of its true po­ten­tial in this coun­try.

GROUP DOM­I­NANCE

Mean­time, Volvo may be still los­ing the bat­tle against Ken­worth for in­di­vid­ual brand supremacy but, in the cor­po­rate stakes, Volvo Group Aus­tralia (VGA) is def­i­nitely win­ning the war. Whereas Ken­worth and DAF col­lec­tively de­liv­ered 2743 heavy-duty units for a 22.8 per cent slice of the heavy-duty cat­e­gory in

“More than 5200 of the heavy-duty trucks de­liv­ered by Ken­worth, Volvo and Mack in Aus­tralia last year were also made in Aus­tralia. Onya!”

2017, the VGA three­some of Volvo, Mack and UD amassed 3264 units for 27.2 per cent. Big num­bers in­deed.

Viewed from a more al­tru­is­tic an­gle, how­ever, the com­bined num­bers high­light the fact that more than 5200 of the heavy- duty trucks de­liv­ered by Ken­worth, Volvo and Mack in Aus­tralia last year were also made in Aus­tralia. Onya!

Any­way, Volvo fin­ished the year with 1845 units for a 15.4 per cent re­turn, while Mack broke through the 1000-unit bar­rier with a healthy 1026 de­liv­er­ies to score fourth spot on the lad­der with 8.5 per cent of the heavy-duty busi­ness. Again, good num­bers, but a par­tic­u­larly pleas­ing re­sult for VGA came from its Ja­panese part­ner UD.

Across both heavy and medium-duty mar­kets, UD de­liv­ered 917 units, but it was ar­guably the 3.3 per cent gained from the de­liv­ery of 393 heavy-duty trucks that put the broad­est smile on some faces. Af­ter all, for most of the decade since Volvo took con­trol, UD has strug­gled to reach 2 per cent of the heavy-duty class, mak­ing the 2017 re­sult the best in its Volvo his­tory.

UD is on a de­ter­mined course to get back to its heavy-duty roots and, with its Con­dor PD and PW rigid six-wheel­ers pro­vid­ing much of the plat­form for the brand’s 2017 per­for­mance, con­fi­dence is brim­ming that the new Quon range launched late last year will take the brand to sales fig­ures it has never known be­fore. Time will tell, of course, but hav­ing spent plenty of time be­hind the wheel of UD’s new flag­ship, it’s easy to share the con­fi­dence.

Nor would it sur­prise if UD ac­tu­ally achieves the great­est growth rate within VGA dur­ing 2018. Volvo and Mack will, of course, stay strong, but given that both brands are still wait­ing on up­dated cabs – Volvo for its big­ger XXL sleeper and Mack for a stand-up cab now un­der de­vel­op­ment in the US – it could be that UD will be the only mem­ber of the cor­po­rate three­some to im­prove sig­nif­i­cantly on its 2017 num­bers.

“The foun­da­tions of Freight­liner’s fail­ure in our neck of the woods sit squarely at the feet of its US prin­ci­pals”

FAST TRACKED

Then there’s the other Swede. Sca­nia! A stel­lar year in­deed, break­ing through the 1000-truck bar­rier for the first time and fin­ish­ing the year just a smidgin be­hind Mack with 8.4 per cent of the heavy-duty class. A top ef­fort, and much of the credit must go to the clever mar­ket­ing and prod­uct ini­tia­tives im­ple­mented over an eight-year ten­ure by re­cently re­tired man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Roger McCarthy.

This year, how­ever, marks a new line in the sand for Sca­nia. There’s not only a new man­ag­ing di­rec­tor in the form of Swede Mikael Jans­son but, at a time when its ex­ist­ing range is on a roll and con­tin­ues to kick goals, the com­pany has fast-tracked the Aus­tralian in­tro­duc­tion of its ‘New Truck Gen­er­a­tion’ fol­low­ing the pos­i­tive per­for­mance of mod­els in lo­cal tests. Con­se­quently, the big­gest task for Sca­nia this year is likely to be sim­ply main­tain­ing the mo­men­tum with a per­for­mance at least equal to 2017.

Other brands to build healthy mo­men­tum in 2017 were a pair of Ger­mans. One was MAN, de­liv­er­ing one truck shy of 500 units for a 4.2 per cent stake of the heavy-duty cat­e­gory, and a re­spectable 6.3 per cent of the medium busi­ness on the back of 462 de­liv­er­ies.

MAN is, of course, part of Roger Penske’s Aus­tralian port­fo­lio, and while a good num­ber of the brand’s de­liv­er­ies in 2017 were mil­i­tary units, there’s no hid­ing the fact that the Ger­man truck is do­ing much bet­ter than Penske’s other star at­trac­tion, Western Star. But we’ll get to that shortly.

Ob­vi­ously enough, the other Ger­man is Mercedes-Benz and, in 2017, its new range of trucks did a great job of gen­er­at­ing con­fi­dence af­ter decades of dis­ap­point­ment with the for­mer Ac­tros fam­ily. With 813 de­liv­er­ies pro­vid­ing 6.8 per cent of the heavy-duty class, way ahead of any­thing the brand has achieved for many years, Benz boffins would be right to ex­pect even more in 2018. Whether they get it or not re­mains to be seen, but judg­ing by the feed­back from fleets af­ter a num­ber of no­table or­ders through last year, even greater growth is al­most cer­tainly on the cards in 2018.

COR­PO­RATE WHIMSY

For cor­po­rate co­hort Freight­liner, the story is nowhere near as good. In fact, for a brand with such a sub­stan­tial model range, Freight­liner’s 2017 fig­ures bor­der on tragic with 417 de­liv­er­ies gath­er­ing just 3.5 per cent of the heavy-duty class. Freight­liner’s for­lorn for­tunes over re­cent years have been the topic of much dis­cus­sion among in­dus­try watch­ers and com­peti­tors alike. Yet while the brand’s lo­cal lead­ers are the log­i­cal tar­gets of blame, the foun­da­tions of Freight­liner’s fail­ure in our neck of the woods sit squarely at the feet of its US prin­ci­pals.

Why? Be­cause with rare ex­cep­tion by rare in­di­vid­u­als, Freight­liner’s Amer­i­can masters have his­tor­i­cally treated right-hand drive as a se­condary func­tion, re­act­ing with what can be best de­scribed as a dawdling re­sponse to prod­uct prob­lems and re­quests for en­gi­neer­ing adap­ta­tions spe­cific to the Aus­tralian mar­ket. In the US, of course, Freight­liner is num­ber one. The big­gest by far, and for that rea­son alone, it’s per­haps easy to see why Aus­tralia’s com­par­a­tively small mar­ket sits low on the radar.

What­ever, when and if Freight­liner chiefs ever con­sider the rea­sons for the brand’s poor per­for­mance in this part of the world, a look in the mir­ror might be a good place to start.

Maybe some­thing sim­i­lar ap­plies to Freight­liner’s North Amer­i­can sib­ling, Western Star, which also recorded a dis­mal re­sult in 2017 with 3 per cent mar­ket share from the de­liv­ery of just 363 trucks. Then again, maybe not!

Any­way, what­ever the rea­sons for Western Star’s slide from grace with Aus­tralian buy­ers, it has all oc­curred since au­to­mo­tive mogul Roger Penske took con­trol. Go fig­ure!

JA­PANESE PRES­ENCE

Rub­bing salt into the wound per­haps, even cor­po­rate sib­ling Fuso fin­ished ahead of Western Star in the heavy-duty rank­ings. Ad­mit­tedly, not by much, with Daim­ler’s Ja­panese en­tity just frac­tion­ally ahead with 369 de­liv­er­ies and a 3.1 per cent stake of the cat­e­gory, but ahead none­the­less. The sim­ple fact is that, with­out Fuso’s num­bers, Daim­ler’s place in the Aus­tralian mar­ket could ap­pear to be lit­tle more than cor­po­rate whimsy.

All up, the Ja­panese brand put more than 3400 trucks into the mar­ket in 2017, fin­ish­ing se­cond with its seem­ingly age­less Can­ter range in the light-duty sec­tor, and third be­hind Isuzu and Hino in medium-duty. Even so, Fuso’s over­all fig­ures were well be­hind com­pet­i­tive coun­try­man Hino.

Hino, in fact, had a par­tic­u­larly good year with 4820 de­liv­er­ies, up by more than 400 units on last year’s fig­ures. Some of the gains came from a re­ju­ve­nated range of wide-cab 500-se­ries mod­els span­ning both the medium and lighter end of the heavy-duty classes where Toy­ota’s truck spe­cial­ist achieved 2156 de­liv­er­ies for 29.5 per cent of the medium sec­tor and 392 units for 3.3 per cent of heavy-duty. Again, how­ever, Hino failed to re­gain se­cond slot from arch ri­val Fuso in the light-duty mar­ket, fin­ish­ing just 30 units be­hind with 2272 de­liv­er­ies. Still, don’t be sur­prised if Hino achieves an even bet­ter over­all re­sult this year. Its new 4x4 model, launched late in 2017, has won high praise from many cor­ners, while a re­freshed range of nar­row-cab medium-duty mod­els could also join the ranks later this year.

An­other brand to span all three cat­e­gories is Iveco but, like a cou­ple of oth­ers, it also logged a largely medi­ocre per­for­mance that failed to take ad­van­tage of a boom­ing mar­ket. In heavy-duty, for in­stance, the age­less home-grown ACCO again pro­vided the ma­jor­ity of the 558 units that gave Iveco a mod­est 4.6 per cent slice of the cat­e­gory, while the brand achieved just 84 medium-duty de­liv­er­ies for a pal­try 1.1 per cent.

In vol­ume terms, Iveco’s big­gest con­trib­u­tor was the ver­sa­tile Daily, which notched 7.3 per cent of the light-duty busi­ness with 850 de­liv­er­ies.

The ques­tion on many minds is that, given the con­sis­tently mod­est num­bers and the vast real es­tate of the his­toric Dan­de­nong (Vic) man­u­fac­tur­ing plant, how long will Iveco con­tinue to be a lo­cal truck builder? Typ­i­cally, many have an opin­ion but none have an an­swer … at least, not pub­licly.

What­ever, Iveco is no doubt hop­ing the long-winded in­tro­duc­tion of the In­ter­na­tional ProS­tar will pro­vide a wel­come boost to its busi­ness. For the record, 14 In­ter­na­tion­als were de­liv­ered in 2017. Fur­ther­more, 49 Cat trucks were de­liv­ered and, of course, the Cats are ef­fec­tively a re­badged, Cat-pow­ered ver­sion of the ProS­tar.

It will cer­tainly be in­ter­est­ing to see what the num­bers are at the end of this year.

Above: Freight­liner. Amer­i­can ap­a­thy has taken its toll Op­po­site: Slowly, slowly. In­ter­na­tional ProS­tar

Right: Hino 500-se­ries. A good re­sult

Op­po­site: Mack. There’s a new cab com­ing

Top: Fast-tracked. New Gen­er­a­tion Sca­nia

Above: MAN among men. The best of Penske’s per­form­ers

Above: Home-grown hero. Ken­worth T610 Op­po­site: Isuzu. Top of the charts, as usual

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